Edinburgh Southern Orienteering Club

Coaching & Training 5: Green, Blue, Brown, Black courses

This is the fifth article in a series by Roger Scrutton, and it describes courses at Technical Difficulty 5 (TD 5). This article discusses relocation, a key skill for courses at TD 5, before explaining other TD 5 challenges.

This article first appeared in the May-June 2020 issue of 'Capital-O', the ESOC newsletter.

All four of these courses are at Technical Difficulty 5 (TD5) on the Step System. They increase in length and physical challenge from Green (usually about 4.5km long) to Black (in excess of 10km, and likely to be visiting remote and/or physically demanding terrain). The key additional skills at TD5 are greater use of contours for both rough and fine navigation and attention to route choice and execution on longer legs. However, a key skill not mentioned anywhere in the Step System is the ability to relocate if you get lost, and the more difficult your course, the more likely you are to be unsure of your location at some point, even if not actually lost. We will look at relocation first.

Part A. Relocation
Like other areas of navigation, the process of relocating is quite logical and systematic. All books on orienteering technique describe the process, and reflecting its importance, in Carol McNeill’s excellent book "Orienteering: skills, techniques, training", relocation has more entries in the index than any other technique. We will come back to the process of relocating in a moment, but firstly it’s useful to understand why you might get lost and how you come to recognise you are lost.
All the coaching or training for orienteering you do is to perfect your navigation skills so that you don’t get lost! However, maintaining concentration for the entire length of a course is hard, especially at TD5. You might relax your concentration a bit on a long path run between controls or by running on a rough compass bearing through a block of forest to reach a clear catching feature. But even in these situations there is the possibility of getting lost, e.g. if you miss an important check-off feature on the track run or you become lax with your compass bearing. It is, therefore, important to be alert to whereabouts in terrain there is a danger of getting lost. Here are a couple of examples, taken from Routegadget.

Example 1: For runner B, the run on the main track did not offer any clear check-off features.

Example 2: The runner (orange line) was faced with an incredibly difficult first leg, diagonally upslope with few distinct contour features and through a boulder field, requiring very accurate compass and pacing from the start. (N.B. North lines on maps are normally 300m apart.)

Here are a few more situations in which there is potential to get lost:

  • Lack of care when leaving a control, leading to an error in direction (potentially, the infamous 180o error).
  • Not navigating and running at the same speed, leading to loss of map to ground and ground to map contact.
  • Negotiating parallel and/or similar-looking terrain features, such as linear hills or marshes, and then following the wrong feature.
  • Distraction by other runners.
  • Tiredness towards the end of a course.

​It might be tempting to generally reduce your running speed to keep in constant contact with the map. However, there is a balance to be struck between making good progress where you can and slowing down where there is a danger of getting lost. This is where you would practice traffic light orienteering in response to the navigational challenge. Also, before an event it is useful to do some homework on the difficulty of the terrain you are likely to visit on your course, using hints from the event details and routes on Routegadget from previous events, and even looking around on your walk to the Start. A further hint – always be cautious on the first leg of a course to warm up navigationally.

Recognising and acknowledging that you are lost should be sooner rather than later. As soon as features on the map and features in the terrain do not match up as you expect, slow down to check, and then if they still fail to match up, stop! Textbooks suggest it should take only a few seconds to go through this process. This is something that can be practiced – see below. Once certain you are lost, the process of relocation comes into play. It is important you don’t run around like a headless chicken and you are systematic about relocating. This sequence of actions is adapted from Carol McNeill’s book, but all textbooks contain something very similar.

  1. Ask yourself some questions. When did you last know where you were, and what have you seen in the terrain since then? Did you check your compass for direction of travel? What is your sense of distance travelled? This gives you a rough ideal of where you might be.
  2. Make sure your map is set to north.
  3. Look around for large, definite features such as a hill, re-entrant, large boulder, vegetation change, or the bearing of a nearby path and try to relate these to the map in the area where you think you are. Hopefully, something relates. Are all features around you now a good fit to the map? If so, you have relocated successfully.
  4. Failing to relocate according to large features within sight, but maintaining the rough idea of where you are, move on a compass bearing to a line feature you can’t possibly miss. Relocate on that line feature.
  5. If step 4 hasn’t worked it is likely that your first rough assessment of where you are (step 1) is wrong. It is then necessary to look across the whole map to find the large features you can see around you and work from there.
  6. Navigate back onto your route. Hopefully, the relocation process has taken no more than a few minutes.

The most common training exercise to practice relocation is done in pairs with one map marked up with a course (dark blue on the map) and larger circles around the control locations (light blue). Runner A leads off with the map while Runner B follows, observing the main terrain features, noting the direction of travel and judging the distance covered. Runner A stops somewhere within the larger circle round the first control and hands over the map for Runner B to relocate and take the pair into the control. A and B then swap roles and the pair works its way round the course taking turns with the map. This exercise can also be done without a course on the map, visiting controls in any order: A leads for a while, B relocates, B leads for a while, A relocates, etc. The short example shown below is on the new ESOC Castlelaw map.

Another exercise that you could do while observing COVID-19 restrictions is to take out some of your old maps and grade parts of the map red, amber or green according to how you judge the danger of getting lost, either along your route round the course or across the whole map. If you have family members with you, you can all do this, compare your gradings and discuss.>Part B. TD5 courses

Returning now to TD5 courses, here is a basic list of some of the challenges you might face:

  • As noted above, courses increase in length and thus give greater scope for a couple of long legs, maybe 2-3km on the longest courses. Long legs require a high level of concentration.
  • Greater use of contour detail to execute your route, which might range from use of subtle features, such as shallow re-entrants, to very complex features, such as on contour-rich open hillsides, in sand dunes or in low visibility forest.
  • It is permitted for a course to have only one control requiring navigation at the designated level of technical difficulty, e.g. only one TD3 control on an Orange course (although most courses will have several controls at the designated level). On a TD5 course it is likely that most of the control sites will require navigation at the TD5 level, including use of more point features, such a boulders, cairns, small crags, knolls, small depressions, root stocks.
  • Controls might be further away from useful attack points.

Here is an example of a good TD5 leg from a recent event on an open fell area in the Lake District. #1 to #2 is a leg almost 900m long. It starts at a point feature (knoll) and finishes at a small crag. What would your route be from 1 to 2, and can you identify a useable attack point for #2? Whereabouts are the danger areas for getting lost bearing in mind you are navigating solely on rock and contour detail? We can see that #7 and #8 are also on point features. A number of short legs with direction changes towards the end of a course is another significant navigational challenge.

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